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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

IM (IM!! IM!!!!) Mont Tremblant race report-Tenacity, persistence, heart

  Prior to all of the regional championship Ironmans this year, Witsup put together some awesome race previews of all of the entered women, emailing us some brief questions.  When in Australia, I answered mine, and then promptly fell asleep on the couch and woke up to my GI system.  One of the questions asked of us was to describe our strengths as triathletes in three words.  My response to that question was what's titled here-tenacity, persistence, heart.  I'd like to think that I was at least sort of accurate, and that I had these qualities in me even before the debacle down under, when I had to regroup and move forward once again.  If nothing else, I thought those three words many, many times during IM Mont Tremblant.

  A few weeks before the race, I had said to Dave, I have a feeling about this one.  I feel like it's going to be the one that actually happens.  It just felt right.  I'd originally gone off the planned course in Tremblant all those years ago, something that had indirectly led to everything that followed.  I was supposed to race there after my fractures, but then I found out that I needed hip surgery, and watched on crutches.  I'd done my first 70.3 back there.  So, I don't know.  For once, I had a good premonition about a race, although I was still freaking wary about it actually happening right until the start.  All of race week, I *might* have been a bit neurotic.  I was fortunate enough that our annual family vacation aligned with race week, so I was able to enjoy some R&R on Cape Cod with my family prior to heading up to Tremblant, which kept me calmer.  Relatively.  As far as how my body felt, I really wasn't feeling too peppy.  Swimming and running were going well enough, but biking in particular felt forced, and I was having difficulty wrapping my mind around the length of an IM.  I also *might* have been a pain in the ass about how I felt.  Maybe.  But, from any sort of injury perspective, I was sound, and I wasn't running a fever and spending the week moving from couch to bathroom, so...winning.  Dave and I headed up to Tremblant on Thursday, and all of the pre-race stuff went as smoothly as it can go, really.  I counted down the days and had my fair share of chills as things became increasingly real.

Scenes from Tremblants past

More scenes from Tremblants nice to be reunited with this crew (plus one!) once again.

And from this year!  I got to do a Breakfast with Bob.  He was awesome, and it was all kinds of fun.
Putting stickers on my bike.  Side note, dropping off that run gear bag was one of many things that made me cry a little before the race, just because I really, really hoped that I'd get far enough in the race to see it again.

  Race morning, I happily woke up to no catastrophes (and coffee...mmm...caffeine).  Making it to the start mostly went fine.  The water temp had stayed below the wetsuit cutoff for pros (72 degree water on a 60ish degree morning without a wetsuit would have sucked).  I suited up, squeezed in a warm up, and did my best to chat and stay as calm as I could until we were off, managing to keep my focus on the immediate task at hand.  The cannon sounded, and we were off in the normal scrum of the swim start.  As per usual, I was fairly lackluster, but I eventually made my way to sharing the lead of a small group of women and plugged away, managing to sight halfway decently and not smash into anything. Since I can actually see the face of my watch in the water, I had made the decision to use it for once in the water in order to keep some focus and accountability, because I know I tend to drift off into the land of the lackadaisical without numbers in my face while swimming.  Plus, just having some idea of how long I'd been in the water and how I was doing made the swim mentally easier.  We were holding a little over 1:30/100y pace, which was ok enough, although I'd been hoping to be a tad faster.  But, I had a long day ahead and was putting in an honest effort.  The AGers began to pass us before the first turn buoy.  After making the second turn onto the final long stretch, I started to employ my normal swim strategy when getting caught by the rolling start from behind-put in a bit of a surge when being passed to get a brief draft, then settle in again until the next pack came past.  I lost track of the other women I was with, but overall this worked out well enough, and eventually I managed to hang in with a pack for the final ~500m or so.  I got out of the water a tad over 64min.  I'd been hoping to be more in the 62-63min range, but I knew that based on where I've been at in the pool, anything under 65 would be fair enough, and still one of my better IM swims despite rustiness at the distance.  Onwards.

Getting suited up, hoping that I wouldn't have to stop and crap during the race, because getting the one piece back on over wet skin would be hard.  More on that one later.

Dave stole my hat.
Pulling my normal, "maybe if I sprint this long run to transition, it'll make up for my lack of swim skills" move.

  Happy to have the first (albeit shortest) portion of my day done, I enjoyed the cheers on the long run into the transition tent.  After an uneventful and fairly unremedial T1 (didn't get lost trying to find my bike-always a plus), I set off on the bike course.  The early stages of the bike ended up proving to be frustrating, and I found myself in a lousy head space for multiple reasons. The flat legs and forcing it I'd been experiencing in training on the bike heading in were carrying over to race day, and that left me sort of upset about the idea of having to feel like that for 5+ hours.  I was sitting mostly a few watts below my power target, and was pretty cranky about how hard even that felt.  But, even more difficult to deal with was the interference between us and the top age group men.  Five minutes really just isn't a large enough buffer.  I know part of this is on me and my swim ability (or lack thereof), but alternating between burning more matches than I wanted to in order to surge around groups and sitting up and soft pedaling to drop back after getting passed continued well into the ride, even after I had moved myself up several places.  Brooke and I went back and forth several times during the first loop, and we shared similar frustrations.  Anyways.  Given that I was in a mood over how I felt to begin with, I eventually just backed off, and hoped that maybe caffeine layering might help as the ride went on.  I also kept having to pee, and spent a good portion of the first lap feeling uncomfortable waiting to reach a descent for that reason, too.  On the positive side, at least I was hydrated, and I was making my way up through the pro women's field steadily.
Exiting T2.  This is my, "I'm about to ride my bike further outdoors than I have since I turned 30 almost 3 years ago" face.  It's a variation of my normal resting face, where people ask me what I'm confused or concerned about.

Mounting skillz.  Or not so much.

   Eventually, I made my way back into the village area to begin the hilly out and back on Chemin Duplessis.  I began looking for Dave, but his genius plan of biking somewhere on the course to find me hadn't worked out.  This probably was for the better, though.  At that point I was trying to convince myself that the bike feeling hard wasn't a reason to quit, and I had mentally prepared myself to read him the riot act about how I felt like crap and wasn't tapered enough and I had told Jesse a million times that week that my bike legs weren't going to recover for the race and it didn't matter that I had moved up a bunch and was riding ok because I wasn't going to be able to hold it.  But, I never saw him, and instead Kim passed me with some words of encouragement.  Well, ok.  That actually helped.  I shut off my own brain, and decided to see how long I could stay with her.  It didn't last long, but every now and then I caught a glimpse of her red kit ahead, and it brought me back to some sort of comfort zone, given we'd been in similar positions many moons ago.  Navigating the steeper hills on that portion of the course also distracted me from my pity party, and they also helped to finally spread the race more and give me some space to settle in and even out my effort.  I wasn't thrilled with my time on the first lap, knowing I'd biked 5:11 on that course 4 years ago, and I also wasn't thrilled with how I felt at that point in the race, but just knowing I was halfway through the bike helped.

Kyle got a bike shot!  I pretty much just look not amused at life here, because I wasn't.

   Finally, once back out onto the long highway stretch, somewhere in the 65-70 mile range, things began to turn around.  Caffeine was kicking in, my bladder was calming down, my legs were starting to forget about the earlier surging and match burning, my power was holding fairly steady close to where I wanted it, I felt like I was making decent time, I moved up a few more places, and mentally, I could wrap my head around how long I had left on the bike.  Approaching the far turnaround, I had moved up to fifth, and it didn't really seem like I was losing any significant time to the leaders, which was encouraging.  At that point in the race, given who was ahead of me, I just hoped that I'd be able to maintain that position, as it had seemed like my best case scenario placing upon seeing the start list.  I started to actually sort of enjoy myself, smiling for spectators and taking in the fact that I was FINALLY doing a freaking ironman, and I was pretty darn deep into the bike and feeling ok.  I focused on fluids and nutrition, breathing a small sigh of relief with each successful bottle refill-something I'm again comfortable with, but being in a full again, it still gave me a bit of pause, just because.  I saw Dave before heading out onto the last out and back on Duplessis, giving him a better report along the lines of "this hasn't felt great, but I'm getting through it and I'm ok".  I kind of enjoyed the hills that time around, and soon enough hit T2 with my computer reading 5:05, six minutes faster than a few years ago.  Well, ok, I'd definitely take that!

   As per usual, I took my sweet ass time in T2 before heading out onto the run course, where a bike escort waited.  I had no idea that top 5 got bike escorts, so I was pretty pumped (especially because he proved to be awesome and rallied people to cheer for me), and had a brief little emotional moment over the fact that after all this time, I was about to have the chance to run a marathon.  That was quickly replaced by the realization that I felt ROUGH.  Plus, my HR monitor kept sliding down (why hadn't I tucked it into my sports bra adequately that morning??).  I saw Dave somewhere in there, and informed him I felt like crap.  But, after a couple of miles, my legs started to settle in, and by the time I hit the bike path a few miles in, I was cruising in the 6:45-6:50ish range pretty comfortably, with my HR right where it should have been.  I spent the out and back on the path in my happy place, actually somewhat enjoying myself for once.  Somewhere in the 10-12 mile range, I began to slow up a bit and running definitely started to feel harder, but at that point I was still making an effort to be responsive to cheers and smile, because it does lift me up.  The Tremblant run course support is always fantastic, and I had plenty of people I knew out there in the crowd and on the course adding a more personal feel to it, as well.  I started to get reports (mostly from Kyle and Dave) that I was putting time into the leaders, but I figured that Kim would outrun me, and Lauren, Rachel, and Magali all just seemed too far ahead and are all incredible athletes, so I doubted I'd end up seeing them.  Plus, I was pretty content with my fifth place at the time, things were starting to hurt more and more, and my GI system system was heading back towards the threatening range.

During my early happy miles still.  I'm not sure when the lead bikers became lead bikers again vs bikers that sat behind us, but I appreciated it.  

Heading out maybe?  Definitely first loop.  I look too happy.

I guess I looked happy occasionally out there.  I don't remember running along a lake, though.  Totally oblivious.

   The second loop of the run, the mental games started in full force.  I told myself to just get through the hills in the village, settle on the path on the out and back, and fight towards the end.  With 12 miles to go, I tried to think of it as three more 30 minute runs, and 30 minute runs are doable.  I was getting more and more splits from spectators that didn't seem to add up, because I didn't think that it was possible I had gotten closer to those in front of me, as I still didn't see anyone and I was definitely slowing up myself.  Somewhere around the 18-19 mile range, I started to feel all kinds of awful.  It made sense, as I was surpassing both the distance of the longest run I'd done in the past 3 years, and the length of the longest training days I'd also done in that time.  I couldn't really tell what my body wanted, so I tried to get down one final gel and some caffeinated salt pills-anything to revive myself.  As we approached the turnaround, I saw Rachel in the lead, Kim up to second, and then some confusion ensued-after seeing none of the women ahead of me on the run all day, two bike escorts were there, Magali popped out of a port a potty just as I ran past, seconds later I passed Lauren, we hit the turnaround, and then I had the third place bike escort leading me.  I had a little bit of a wait, what just happened, how am I in 3rd now?? moment, followed by pretty much straight fear-I felt really, really rough, I was slowing down, and I was sure that I'd only made the passes because of bathroom breaks.  I thought that Lauren and Magali passing me back was imminent.  An IM media motorcycle was in front of me, and I almost wanted it gone, because I was so unsure of what was going to happen still.

   Mile 20 was my slowest yet, and then just before mile 21, I realized that my GI system wasn't going to hold out, either.  Honestly, I wasn't all that surprised, given I'd sort of felt it coming the whole run, and between the issues after the fibroid removal last winter and the fact I don't think things had every totally reset after whatever happened in Australia, I'd been a bit worried about that heading into the race.  I was barely hanging onto a podium spot and didn't want to give up any time (especially knowing I had to get a tight, wet one piece down and up), but I had to do what I had to do, ducked into a port a potty, and managed to be in and out in under 90 seconds.  I fully expected to have been passed when I emerged, but somehow, the 3rd place cyclist was still waiting outside the door when I emerged.  Well, that was sort of encouraging, given that with the stop, I'd just dropped a nearly 9min mile 21.  I hoped that I'd feel better after that, but that didn't work out-about half a mile later, I had another first, as kind of out of nowhere I found myself turning my head to the side and barfing out some liquid.  Although I HATE throwing up more than anything, it somehow wasn't that bad in a race.  And then it dawned on me that I was again disappointed that I didn't feel better post-purge.  I sort of debated what to do-I was running in third, but my body was starting to really, really unravel.  On one had, I felt super nauseous, weak, crampy, and thirsty, borderline like I was going to pass out, and I didn't know if I'd be able to finish if I couldn't get anything in for the final five miles.  On the other hand, I was freaking running in third, and in a position I've spent the better part of the past nearly 3 years dreaming of being in.  I can't lie, I also REALLY wanted to get to do a sweet podium celebration.
Now in third.  We'll keep this one from a distance, because I'm sure what's going on with me behind the cyclist doesn't look so hot.

I look like I'm trying not to poop.  Because I was.

And thaaaat's more like it.  Classic.

  So, I went into major troubleshooting mode.  I decided that first and foremost, I had to make sure that I could finish.  At that time, I was actually having some moments where I wondered if I was going to make it, or if I was just going to end up passed out on the side of the course.  I slowed down, and just told myself to keep running and not pay attention to pace.  Mile 22-23 was my slowest of the day, as I tried to figure out what I could do without losing anything else from my system.  I skipped an aide station, but managed to get some water in at the next one.  Shortly after mile 23, I was getting reports that I was about a minute up on fourth.  I again reassessed-I couldn't give back more than 20 seconds/mile, which meant that I definitely couldn't keep slowing down.  At the same time, the dizziness and weakness were increasing to a pretty concerning level, but I was regaining trust in my stomach.  So, I downed another couple hits of pepsi at the next aide station, forced myself to at least kind of run up the hills, and tried to use the energy of the crowds as much as I could.  Finally, with just over 2 miles to go, my body came around as much as it could at that point in the day, and, pretty attached to 3rd, I was able to put myself into the pain locker because of effort, vs having my body put me in the pain locker because it was unraveling out of my control, if that makes any sense.  I dug in and counted down, remembering that injured past Jennie would have punched whiny race Jennie in the face if she backed down because it was hard.  My pace recovered slightly, and a quick glance back when running around the special needs area just before heading back through the village towards the finish revealed no one breathing down my neck.  I relaxed slightly, and did my best to soak up enthusiastic cheers from the spectators that lined both sides of the final half mile.
Successfully held my bowels and the contents of my stomach for the final ~40min!!  Yes!!

It had been a while.  That's all.  Mike Reilly later referred to me as one of the happiest IM finishers out there, and that also made me happy.  I'll never take one of these finishes for granted again!

   I wasn't sure what I'd feel as I veered to the left towards the finish, but when I saw the finish line approaching, relief and joy dominated.  The 9.5 hours that preceded it had been a tiny blip compared to the years that came beforehand.  As per usual me, my reaction was what it was-an unrehearsed and unadulterated, wearing heart on my sleeve sort of deal.  My emotions in that moment were exactly why I never questioned why I continued to try to get back through setback after setback and chronic pain over these past few years.  I kept trying because as hard as it was to believe at some points, as far off as it seemed, some small part of me kept clinging to a little bit of unrelenting faith that a race like that was possible, and if I could make it happen, I'd feel a sense of fulfillment beyond what I'd felt from racing ever before.  And that was precisely what happened out there.  Joining Rachel and Kim on the podium was an absolute dream.  I could not respect either woman more, not just as athletes but as class acts in the sport, and as examples of balancing motherhood and triathlon success-something that in my "I can barely handle myself" stages of training, I can't even imagine.  I was honored to have been part of such an exciting, quality pro women's race, too, even if the last few miles of the run were a bigger struggle than I remembered.  Running into third and holding on brought me to some of the darkest places I've ever been in a race, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  At the time, I can't say I loved holding on for dear life, but now, a week later, I'm so glad that yeah, it wasn't a perfect day, and that I was never safe in those final miles.  Kudos to the women in that race.  Afterwards, I read some comments on how the end of our race was interesting to track, as well as some about the character of the women involved, and being included in that, to me, meant more than any compliments on speed or the like.
It's amazing how quickly the pain changes to joy, really.

We've shared a lot in this sport through the years, and to come back and yet again race within minutes of each other and bring out the best in each other after years away meant everything.

Smiles on smiles

Honored to be on this podium.  I was pretty happy with third here, because I didn't have to climb a higher step.  Side note: those flowers still look great.  I got really sad that they were going to get seized when our car got randomly searched at the border, but they let me keep them.  Crisis averted.

    Afterwards, when interviewed, Bob Babbitt had asked me if I had moments where I thought my Ironman career might be over.  In retrospect, I'm not even entirely sure if I know the answer to that.  I think that the best answer is probably that I feared that it could be, but did my best to believe that it wasn't.  I also feared that I was making a huge life decision mistake by continuing to attempt to pursue triathlon as a portion of my current career.  Let's face it.  I went to college on full academic scholarship and walked onto the cross country team, I was a 4.0 student, I have a doctorate, I've worked as a physical therapist for eight years now, I have an undergraduate degree in exercise science that lends itself nicely into coaching.  And yet, three years ago I made the decision to change jobs, cut back on my hours as a PT, and go more into triathlon.  Then, six months later, I ended up working through nearly two years of no triathlon income, and a whole lot of medical expenses.  Life has realities, and at times it became very, very hard to justify what I was doing, especially when watching my husband work his butt off supporting us while training for IMs-and I'll be honest that this was a source of strain on our relationship on more than one occasion.  Plain and simple, I felt bad many, many times.  Guilt over what I was doing with my life was real-besides the lack of return on investment, I wasn't contributing much to society.  I never wanted to move on (yet, obviously being a pro triathlete won't last forever), I wanted to get back, but I certainly feared that I might be forced to change my direction.
Mexican monkey literally on my head, figuratively on my back.
My last IM finisherpix...the Mexican hospital where it all started

   Additionally, in my nearly 3 years away from IM racing, I watched the women's field become increasing faster and deeper.  Women moving up in distance, sub-3:05 marathons, sub-9 hour days abounded, and I legitimately doubted that I'd ever be able to be competitive again, especially with a post-injury changed body that might not be able to handle as much as it once did.  Back a few years ago, my normal training volume was around 22-25 hours/week, with peak weeks in the 28-30 hour range.  Even heading into Tremblant, I hovered in the 18-21 hour range, peaking around 24 hours, and I had more than one weekend where I had to take a mulligan and move long sessions up a day, because my durability just from a fitness perspective couldn't handle it.  Not that I've ever been that great at 70.3s to begin with, but last year I finished in pretty distant positions on many occasions.  All these things added up to many times where I doubted my adequacy as a triathlete.  Did I deserve the privileges of only working a few days a week, having time to train while my husband worked, having one of the top coaches of the world despite mediocre results?  Would I ever be able to hack it in a deeper field than ever before?  Were my past good seasons flukes?  Was I old and washed up?  Should I maybe use my brain more?

   When it came down to it, though, I loved triathlon.  I was never ready to give up on triathlon.  I wanted to give others going through hard times hope.  I was going to fight for this weird old sport of exercising a lot.  So, that finish line in Tremblant represented so much more to me than just a personal vendetta to finish up IM #10.  It represented validation, relief, and a clearing of the clouds of doubt that have been hanging over me for years.  I had others tell me that it was good to see me back in the IM field, and I took that to heart as well.  I have plenty of work left to do, I know that.  One result doesn't suddenly change that I was away for a while, I'm in a sport that requires years upon years of work and dedication, each race, week, day, training session, repetition is another battle, and I still have to prove it to myself that I'm worthy.  But, for the first time in nearly three years, I don't have to worry that this body can still compete in Ironmans at a high level.  It did.  When it comes down to it, I'm absolutely one of the lucky ones, because I got the chance.  In a way, that race marked the end of a chapter of my life, and the start of a new one.  Now, it's up to me to keep at it, and, with any luck (ha...) write a better next one.  It's funny-in some way, the strength I gained in the 9 IMs I finished before my crash helped me through my injury time, but at the same time, what I learned about tenacity, persistence, and heart during that injury time was what got me through the tenth finish.

   Anyways.  That's enough analytical BS!  Post-race, I had an absolute blast getting to do podium celebrations and champagne sprays, even though my unskilled version was more of a dump.  I got burgers and fries (kind of) with Dave, and then spent the rest of the night watching Dirty Dancing while snacking and gimping around, wonderfully sore.  At various points, I internally complained about things like the chafed post-race shower, the continued stomach woes, and the difficulty of moving from sit to stand, until I had various realizations that my last few IM attempts had involved tank tops adhered to road rash covering half my torso, stomach woes all of race week that finished my race before it started, and using a stool as a crutch to get from the couch to the bathroom in Mexico.  So, life is good.  It's been a combination of recovery and starting to get back to work this week, with new goals and hopes for the future, now that the Mexican monkey is off my back.

Rachel schooled us with champagne skills.  Champagne was probably the cleanest fluid I had on me at that point.  IM is seriously gross, but that's ok.

And yay awards!

   This has gone on long enough, so I'll awkwardly wrap up with a whole bunch of thank yous, even though that alone could take up another post!  HUGE thanks to everyone who cheered for me in person or tracked me, sent me messages and comments and likes, and good vibes.  I read and appreciated them all, even if I might not have replied like I wanted to!  Thanks to Kelly, for doing a kick ass job with our dogs and house while we were away.  Many thanks to Chris, Erika, and everyone at Big Sexy Racing and Ownway apparel-sharing a course with Chris was a huge boost, and being on the team has been awesome this year.  Thanks to our team sponsors for playing a giant role in getting me to the finish line as comfortably and quickly as possible-Zone3 for the swim gear, Quintana Roo for the bike and for always standing by me, Ice Friction (special shout out for shipping a freshly iced chain to Tremblant!), Kask, Lake cycling, Reynold's wheels,  Ruby's lube, F2C nutrition, Bonk Breaker, Hiball energy, and Juice Performer.  No doubts I've had access to some of the best products out there this year, and it's showed.  Thanks to the pro women out there, who inspired me to give my best not only on that day, but day in and day out.  I'm so lucky to be a part of a sport where we're competitors, but also supportive of and respectful towards each other-there are just so many flat out nice women that are in triathlon, period  And, of course, thanks to my parents, family, and closest friends, who have dealt with me day in and day out through a lot of stuff, to say the least.  To Jesse, who somehow weathered one ridiculously long heck of a storm of a human being with steadfast patience and belief.  And finally, to Dave, for being my partner in crime, my rock, and my biggest supporter who has made all of this possible.  Onward.  :)

And finally, dogs, because, dogs.  Happy because they had such great care while we were gone!  And because they're cute.  And Dave has a treat.